In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals: “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.”
As The New York Times summarized those findings: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile” while “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”
This repellent practice continues.
Over the last three days, the U.S. has launched three separate drone strikes in Pakistan: one on each day. As The Guardian reports, the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 people in these strikes, the last of which, early this morning, killed between 8 and 15. It was the second strike, on Sunday, that targeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike:
Note that there is no suggestion, even from the “officials” on which these media reports (as usual) rely, that the dead man was a Terrorist or even a “militant.” He was simply receiving condolences for his dead brother. But pursuant to the standards embraced by President Obama, the brother — without knowing anything about him — is inherently deemed a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target for death solely by virtue of being a “military-age male in a strike zone.” Of course, killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President: let’s recall the still-unresolved question of why Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen two weeks after his father was killed.
I ask this sincerely: what kind of country targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn? If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today. Recall the outrage that was sparked when WikiLeaks released its Collateral Murder video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter during the Bush era firing on unarmed rescuers, who had arrived to retrieve the initial victims who had been shot and were laying wounded on the ground. That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.
This explains why Obama now finds support for his conduct among the most radical right-wing factions in the U.S. Consider the debate that took place this weekend on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes regarding President Obama’s kill list. In opposition to Obama’s drone policy — and harshly critical of him — were the ACLU’s Director of National Security Project, Hina Shamsi (who said: “There is no national security policy that poses a graver threat to human rights law and civil liberties than” Obama’s kill lists), and The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill (who caused substantial controversy by denouncing Obama’s drone strikes as “murder). So it was the ACLU and The Nation as Obama’s harsh critics.
But the task of defending Obama fell to one of the most extremist right-wing militants in America: former George W. Bush speechwriter and co-founder of the far right RedState.com blog Josh Treviño, whose ideology and character are evidenced by past comments such as this and this. That is who MSNBC has to turn to in order to find a defense of Obama’s militarism. Joining the RedState.com founder in defending Obama was Col. Jack Jacobs, one of the key military officials in the Bush-era Pentagon propaganda program exposed by David Barstow.
Also defending Obama’s militarism this week was another former Bush speechwriter who wrote an entire falsehood-filled book advocating torture: The Washington Post‘s Marc Thiessen. He celebrated what he accurately called “the Obama-Bush doctrine” and wrote: “the two men’s counterterrorism policies are virtually indistinguishable — except in the liberal reaction to them” (though Thiessen, as is his wont, distorts reality when he claims that venues such as The New York Times Editorial Page and Amnesty International have failed to harshly condemn Obama: both have). Meanwhile, cited as a vocal Obama defender in The New York Times ”kill list” article this week was Gen. Michael Hayden, the implementer of Bush’s illegal eavesdropping program while NSA chief who was then named CIA Director by Bush: “Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a ‘Nixon to China’ quality.” This is not new: while the ACLU and others have harshly denounced Obama time and again, the hardest-core factions of the American Right have spent a couple of years now heaping praise on him for his behavior in this realm.
When it comes to his militarism, secrecy obsessions, and ongoing killing, that’s the company President Obama keeps. Many progressives like to fantasize that conservatives refuse to give President Obama credit no matter what he does, but that is absolutely false. While the ACLU and human rights groups have repeatedly sued the administration and denounced Obama himself in the harshest possible terms, while U.N. investigators formally condemn him, the the neocons and warmongers who were once so despised in progressives circles have watched as he has vindicated their record, and have, in return, become his most enthusiastic defenders. There’s an obvious reason this revealing, counterintuitive split is so acute, even if it’s one many progressives would prefer to ignore.
This article first appeared on Salon.com.